Photo of eBay Inc.

eBay Inc.

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Communications

For pioneering the technology that encouraged and supported online trade, enabling global entrepreneurship and the growth of the Internet worldwide.

On the company’s beginnings

When it comes to online auction websites, eBay Inc. outbids the competition.

Founded by Pierre Omidyar in 1995, the multinational corporation and e-commerce giant provides consumer-to-consumer and business-to-consumer sales services on the Internet at no charge to the buyer.

The company, which now has operations localized in more than 30 countries, is a success story in the dot-com community. The site, originally called AuctionWeb, began as part of a larger personal site for Omidyar, the site’s programmer, and the first item he sold was a broken laser pointer for $14.83.

The laser pointer was originally designed to be a test of the sale function, so when a buyer expressed serious interest, Omidyar was shocked. He asked buyer if he knew the laser pointer was broken, and the buyer confirmed he was aware, adding that he was a collector of the gizmos—functioning or not.

In this moment, Omidyar realized he could tap a market for collectors, and what started as a side hobby quickly grew.

The site began attracting more traffic, employees were added, and the company’s name was changed to eBay. (Omidyar had tried register the domain as Echo Bay, after his consulting firm, but it was already taken by a mining company, so he used his second choice).

In January 1997 alone, the site hosted 2 million auctions, a leap from the 250,000 auctions that occurred during the whole of 1996. That same year, the company received $6.7 million in funding from a venture capital firm, and it ballooned to serve half a million users.

The site went totally public in September 1998, and eBay continued to grow—in terms of users, revenues and services—and the site as we know it today was set in motion.

By Sydni Dunn